I am writing this in Delhi as the Second Global Symposium for engaging men and boys in gender justice is drawing to a close. It has not been an easy place to be a Christian.
The church is most-often spoken of in the context of fundamentalism, patriarchy and oppression – an apparent enemy of women’s rights and unconcerned with the struggles of a movement seeking justice in a world where so many are subject to violence and oppression as a result of their gender or sexuality.
— This is article #80 in our series of #100Voices4Men and boys
The brutal Delhi rape of December 2012 raised the profile of sexual violence around the world. Being in India also brings into perspective the cradle to grave nature of violence against women. This ranges from sex selective abortion which has left a huge deficit of girl children in India, through forced and early marriage, domestic abuse (reckoned to affect 35% of women here), rape, sexual abuse and routine sexual harassment through to abuse of widows. This is the local Indian manifestation of the global epidemic of violence against women which takes different forms in different countries, but is truly universal.
This group of committed activists seeking to address gender justice, including violence against women, has little time for the church. They are critical of the way in which society in general, and religion in particular, is active or complicit in gender-based violence, and persecutes those who do not conform to its social norms. There are tensions here between different groups around the role of men and the feminist responses to men’s engagement in this work, but overall there is an impressive consensus about the task to be addressed and the importance of men and women working together. A good place for us to start is reading the “Delhi Call to Action” and reflecting on how we might respond.
Gender, caste and identity
Several of the discussions have been about moving beyond the “gender binary” of male and female. In India, transgender women have a prominent public role at social events and on the streets. I listened for the first time to a transgender man speak about the personal nature of his struggle for identity, and about the extent to which prevailing social norms and debates left him excluded and marginalised. His convincing analysis, combined with his personal story of experiencing violence, stands alongside other abuse such as the “corrective rape” of lesbians in South Africa and the multiple sufferings of women, poor and lower class/caste communities and sexual minorities. Where does the church stand on these issues? For the most part we are silent and distant.
A second overarching theme was the need to recognise the multiple dimensions of power and oppression. Being in India, this inevitably focused heavily on caste and the appalling sufferings of Dalit women and men. Gender is only one, albeit important, dimension of this. Privilege is generally invisible to those that enjoy it. What do we see when we look in the mirror?
Michael Kimmel, an American academic, who is also white, male, middle class and heterosexual, said, half-jokingly, that in the mirror he sees a human being. He was acknowledging that gender, class, sexuality and race all risk being invisible to him and other men, such as me, in the same situation. Others would answer the question of what they see in the mirror very differently. What do you see and how aware are you of the different dimensions of privilege that you enjoy?
A Christian presence
There was a small but positive Christian presence here. Restored members SALT, Tearfund and UMN were all represented. Prabu Deepan highlighted Tearfund’s great work with church leaders addressing masculinities in the Great Lakes region of Africa. Veena O’Sullivan, also from Tearfund, has helped to pioneer work with survivors in South Africa. Through the We Will Speak Out coalition of which Restored is a member, she has forged close links with Sonke Gender Justice, one of the leaders of the MenEngage alliance that organised the conference. Sonke has over 200 staff with a large contingent here in Delhi. Many of the staff are Christians and the organisation is developing its work across ten African countries and developing its “One Man Can” campaign to have more explicitly Christian content for use in church communities.
At two satellite meetings and one session in the main programme there was a chance to talk about the positive dimensions of faith and working with faith leaders. I was able to speak about First Man Standing at the We Will Speak Out session. There was recognition of the influence of faith and positive stories from Sonke, Tearfund and Norwegian Church Aid who have had an interesting project working primarily with Muslim leaders in Pakistan to address issues of female inheritance and forced marriage.
And Jesus is here. The example of Jesus, unlike that of the church, is generally held in high esteem for his love and commitment to the poor and marginalised, and his respect for both women and men. I continue to believe that the love, positive relationships and the giving up of power that lie at the heart of the gospel are very much part of the answer. What is needed is for each of us, and for the church as a whole, to live this out. For most of this dialogue the church is not at the table. My overwhelming sense is of the distance that we have to travel to be engaged in these debates and to stand alongside those who are both suffering and standing for justice. Our language and our attitudes need to change. We need to repent of so much, and we need to be willing to listen in humility before we speak.
Peter Grant is Co-Director of Restored and this article first appeared at the Restored website. You can follow the charity on Twitter @Rest0red
You can find all of the #100Voices4Men articles that will be published in the run up to International Men’s Day 2014 by clicking on this link—#100Voices4Men—and follow the discussion on twitter by searching for #100Voices4Men.
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